Knowles introduces $127 million school construction package

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Saying many Alaska school buildings are in disgraceful shape, Gov. Tony Knowles proposed a $127 million bond package Wednesday to replace four rural schools and pay for 46 major repair projects at schools across Alaska.

The bonds would be backed by the state's share of the national settlement with tobacco companies.

''We know a student can't excel in school or be prepared for the competitive jobs of the future if their classrooms are falling down around them,'' Knowles said.

The bonds would finance replacement of schools in four rural villages, including $29.2 million for a new school in Togiak, where the current school is crowded with twice as many students as it was designed to hold, $9.9 million for Golovin, $11.7 million for Koyuk and $18.4 million for Tuluksak. The four schools head the Department of Education and Early Development's priority list, which currently is 59 projects long.

The Tuluksak school is falling apart, crowded and has an underpowered heating system, said David Gilila, board member of the Yupiit School District in Southwest Alaska.

''Those kids up there, sometimes when it's really cold, they have to wear their jackets,'' Gilila said. ''This fall we have another 20 little ones coming to school and we don't know where to put them.''

Many schools in the Bush were built decades ago by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Inadequate to begin with, the buildings have gradually crumbled due to harsh weather and lack of maintenance. Many lack basic safety and fire protection equipment. For example, massive fuel tanks stand just outside the door of the school in Togiak.

The bond package would also pay for the top 46 projects on the department's major maintenance list. Most of the projects are in rural villages, but some address problems in the state's larger communities, including:

--$9 million to renovate Juneau-Douglas High school.

--$5 million to renovate Service High School in Anchorage.

--$4.9 million to renovate Schoenbar Middle School in Ketchikan.

--$1.2 million for districtwide fire protection upgrades in Fairbanks.

--$346,5000 for repair and renovation to Blatchley Middle School in Sitka.

--$385,610 to reinsulate the exterior walls of Kenai Central High School.

The package is less ambitious than the $510 million plan Knowles introduced last year to clear all the projects on both the construction and maintenance lists. The Republican-controlled Legislature pared that down to about $93 million.

Paying off the bonds in both packages would require about 80 percent of the more than $20 million the state expects to get each year from the tobacco settlement. He called on lawmakers to use the remainder of the money to more than double the amount the state spends on tobacco cessation programs to $3 million.

Because a particular stream of revenue would be designated to pay off the bonds, they would not have to pass a statewide vote before the public as general obligation bonds would.

The measure now goes to the Legislature on the heels of the $425 million transportation bond package the Knowles administration introduced Tuesday.

Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Pete Kelly said he supported the idea of building and repairing the schools, but not the use of the tobacco settlement money, which is currently spent elsewhere in the state's operating budget.

''We're essentially going to create a hole in our budget,'' said Kelly, R-Fairbanks.

Kelly said he'd be more supportive of a plan involving general obligation bonds and a statewide vote.

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